RESPONSE TO “BCUC’s Staff Report on Smart Meter Fire Safety Concerns”
KEY: Highlighted text is from Sharon Noble Non-highlighted text is the draft report as written by BCUC staff.
Below, BCUC says there is no evidence that hiring untrained people and instructing them to use “non-standard” installation methods has resulted in any increase in incidents. They say there have been “only” 7 incidents while I gave them a report that I had obtained from Hydro, via an FOI, showing 157 incidents at installation through Sept. 2014. Nowhere does BCUC acknowledge that poor installation practice could result in fires or “thermal events” weeks or even months after installation. ITRON and Hydro were careless in their hiring, in their instructions (e.g. allowing exchange while the power was on), and in their reporting. And BCUC has been careless (perhaps irresponsible) in reviewing the evidence.
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The evidence reviewed indicates the safety hazard associated with watthour meters has not materially increased with the introduction of smart meters in BC as further detailed below:
3) Is the meter installation process and/or training of meter installers a factor in the incident rate?
The evidence reviewed does not suggest that installation procedures or lack of training of meter installers has resulted in materially increasing the incident rate.
Comment: This conclusion is not based on hard evidence, only conjecture, because of the fragmentation of reporting and incident data. From this assertion, one could also conclude that the Utilities no longer need to use any trained and qualified staff to work on their power systems.
Of the evidence reviewed 7 fires were started during smart meter installation, the cause of one of these fires was identified as installer error. Both BC Hydro and FortisBC reported that no installer lost time injuries occurred during the smart meter installation programs. Fires occurring during installation pose a relatively small risk to residents as they occur in the presence of the installer. However, it is clear installation practices vary somewhat between utilities and have evolved over time. The hot socket gap indicator tool was introduced after the start of BC Hydro’s program. On a relatively small sample size, FortisBC who used the hot socket gap indicator tool for most of their installations reported no incidents during installation and no post installation fires.
- Installations were done under power which is counter to all electrical rules and CSA regulations.
- Incidents at installation were not limited to fires. Many homeowners suffered damages to electronics and appliances as a result of the live exchange. Although some were reimbursed by BC Hydro, many claims were refused by Corix and BC Hydro, with the homeowner or the insurance company to pay for damages.
- Poor installations do not necessarily cause “incidents” at the time the installation is done. Damage to the meter and/or the meter base can and did result in fires/failures weeks later. One example is a home fire that occurred in Coquitlam on Aug. 5, 2012. The smart meter had been installed 2-3 weeks prior to the incident which, according to the fire report, was caused by “failed electrical distribution equipment”. BC Hydro removed the meter before the BCSA could investigate the incident, but did pay for repairs.
- Given the lack of accurate tracking, there is no reason to believe BC Hydro’s assertion or BCUC’s conclusion that lack of training or poor installation procedures did not result in increased incidents. What was the incident rate of fires and damages to electronics, appliances and homes during installations in the 5 years prior to 2011?
- There were any more than 7 fires and major incidents that occurred during installation. A report from BC Hydro obtained via an FOI which included 157 events through Sept. 2014. There is no reason to accept any of the statistics provided by BC Hydro.
Comment: The hot socket gap indicator tool was introduced by TESCO around 2014. The Manufacturer recommends it be used on de-energized equipment. The Question arises: Why is BC Hydro not using this device?